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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

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I was recently pleased to be a guest on Paul Elam's show on Blog Talk Radio along with Seattle family attorney, Lisa Scott.  The subject was domestic violence and the many roles it plays in the diminution of our civil rights and liberties.  Here's a link to the show (BlogTalk Radio, 4/13/11). Scott is a long-time family lawyer so she's seen the pernicious effects of the domestic violence industry on families, particularly fathers and children.  Here's her website that makes it clear that, when it comes to dads in family court, she "gets it." The interview was a good one.  It was made even better by the many calls from knowledgeable listeners.  One in particular got my attention. A mental health professional called in with some very important information for men in intimate relationships.  She said that she's counseled many innocent men who've found themselves thrown out of their houses, denied access to their kids, tossed in jail, made the subject of TROs - in short, the whole litany of abuse visited on men by the domestic violence establishment. Her message?  Many, many of these men had been threatened repeatedly by their partners, with exactly that.  The couple would have a row and the woman would tell the man that, if he didn't toe the line, she'd call the police and claim DV.  The good doctor said that is a very common occurrence, and her message was that if your partner says that, believe her.  Sooner or later, she'll likely make good on the threat. Into the bargain, as Lisa Scott added, that very threat is itself a form of control that our greatly expanded version of domestic violence is supposed to prohibit.  Needless to say, that's an interesting point.  The ease with which TROs are issued against men and the power of false allegations are in fact a terribly real form of domestic abuse. My two cents consisted in part of discussing the inroads into constitutional rights made by domestic violence law.  The fact that the Fourth Amendment requires a finding of probable cause before a search or arrest can be carried out is routinely cast aside in favor of unsubstantiated claims. Add to that the fact that supposed DV perpetrators are often brought to trial based on something as insubstantial as the recording of a 911 call.  That's one of the results of no-drop policies of district attorneys in cases in which domestic violence is alleged.  In those cases, the accuser has changed her mind and seeks to withdraw her complaint, but ADAs go ahead anyway. Now, there's a little matter of the Sixth Amendment to reckon with.  That Amendment requires that anyone accused of a crime has the right to confront his/her accuser.  As a practical matter, that means the accuser must be brought into court for cross-examination.  Needless to say, you can't cross-examine a tape recording. Lisa Scott pointed out that, however violative of the Sixth Amendment that might be, since most cases are plea-bargained, the mere threat of prosecution - even one based on something as shaky as a 911 call - is often enough to force a defendant's hand. She rightly said that men faced with plea-bargaining to a lesser offense or risking a trial have a daunting decision to make.  Conviction can often mean not only prison but loss of kids, job and more.  Given the fact that few such men can afford the type of drawn-out representation required to not only try a case but possibly appeal a conviction, the results of a charge based even on flimsy evidence are not hard to imagine. Domestic violence is a serious problem in the United States.  That's why understanding it correctly and addressing it effectively are important.  Sadly, since the early 1970s, we've gotten almost everything about DV wrong.  That's because we trusted a radical political ideology to inform us on the subject.  Not surprisingly, that ideology led us down the wrong path. Now, after almost 40 years of federal and state funding, interests that believe in preserving the status quo have become entrenched and unseating them will not be easy.  But more and more, people are coming to realize that what we've been doing isn't working.  It's a waste of public money because it was always based on numerous flawed concepts. Among those are that only men commit DV or that when women do it's only in self defense.  Then there's the claim that women's DV doesn't hurt men and that women don't seek to control men by their violence. How to deal with offenders is likewise flawed.  Mental health professionals actually have some very good ideas about how to deal with perpetrators, but for the DV establishment all that is irrelevant because it fails to embrace the political notion that men abuse women out of a need to maintain a misogynistic patriarchy.  Mandatory arrest of "primary aggressors" is similarly flawed because it too seeks to ignore women who commit DV. The conflation of all domestic violence with "battering" is another favorite misconception the DV establishment is glad to perpetuate.  Time and again we find that the vast majority of what's called domestic violence is either entirely non-injurious or results in no more than "a minor cut or bruise," to quote a recent study by the government of Scotland.  In that study, 80% of incidents resulted in either no injury or only a minor one, in short, a far cry from "battering." I could go on, but suffice it to say that little that we do or say about domestic violence is calculated to sensibly confront that very real problem. But many people outside the DV establishment are fighting back.  We read about it in newspapers, in academic studies and the Internet, and hear about it on television and the radio.  Slowly but surely the worm is turning.

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Update 6/10/11: Governor Kasich signs HB 121.

Update 6/1/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio Senate, goes to Governor Kasich for his signature. An emergency clause has been attached to the bill, so instead of waiting 90 days for it to become law, it will take effect immediately after it is signed.

Update 5/10/11: HB 121 passes the Ohio House of Representatives.

Update 4/13/11: HB 121 passes Ohio House Veterans Affairs Committee.

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Fathers and Families of Ohio supports HB 121, a bill to protect military parents' child custody rights. HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), is modeled in part on AB 2416, which we helped pass in California last year.

F & F of Ohio Executive Committee Chairman Donald C. Hubin laid out the case for HB 121 in the Columbus Dispatch -- see his op-ed column Custody agreements should survive deployments (4/6/11).

In the Dispatch, Hubin, who is also the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Ohio State University, writes:

...servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement that allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children's lives, the new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role. To regain their previous custody arrangement, they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and dissipates much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children...

The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that when a military parent is deployed, upon his or her return, child custody and visitation orders revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children's lives and helps prevent a military parent from having to re-litigate the case. By reducing unnecessary re-litigation, House Bill 121 eases Ohio's already overburdened family-law court calendars, leading to savings for the state.

In the past, family courts were allowed to consider active military service as a change in circumstances that allows modifications of custody decrees. House Bill 121 would prohibit this.

The bill also would instruct courts to "stay any proceeding pertaining to the allocation or modification of parental rights and responsibilities if a parent who is the subject of the allocation or modification proceeding is unavailable due to active military service." It also directs courts to allow deployed parents to participate and present evidence in any family court proceeding via the internet, video and/or telephone.

More than three dozen states have now passed military-parent child-custody legislation since 2005, including Ohio's House Bill 119 in 2007. Yet current Ohio law fails to address four of the seven commonly identified problems deployed servicemembers face.

No mother or father should ever be disadvantaged in a child-custody or family-court proceeding because he or she serves in the military. With America fighting two wars and the divorce rate among military families running high, Ohio's service members need House Bill 121. And we owe them nothing less.

Read Hubin's full piece here.

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At this point, we know little about the horrible tragedy that unfolded in the early evening hours of April 12th. What we do know is that Lashandra Armstrong, mother of four children ages 11 months to 10 years, drove her minivan into the Hudson River near Newburgh, New York, with the intention of drowning them all.  Her 10-year old son, La'Shaun managed to escape, swim to shore and flag down a passing motorist, telling her, "My mommy just drove the car in the water." That motorist, Meave Ryan rushed to the scene, saw the minivan and concluded that Armstrong and the three youngest children were dead.  She then took La'Shaun to a fire station.  As Ryan tells it, the boy described what had happened:
"There was an argument about cheating, that his stepfather was cheating on his mother,' Ms. Ryan said. On the short ride from their apartment in Newburgh to the boat ramp, La"Shaun told Ms. Ryan, his mother had called an older relative and said, "I"m sorry, I"m going to do something crazy, you have to forgive me...' She said he told her that Ms. Armstrong had grabbed the children as the minivan rolled into the water and said, "If I"m going to die, you"re going to die with me.' She said that La"Shaun broke free, rolled down the window and swam out. He also told her that his mother tried to stop the tragedy that was playing out, but it was too late. He said that as the minivan began sinking Ms. Armstrong said, "Oh, my God, I made a mistake, I made a mistake.' He said she tried to shift into reverse. But the minivan was too far into the water to go back.
Slowly the pieces of the puzzle are being gathered and put in place.  In this article, various friends, relatives and neighbors are quoted (New York Times, 4/13/11).  From their bits of information, we can learn that the three youngest of Armstrong's children - the three who are dead - were fathered by a man named Jean Pierre, 26.  Who La'Shaun's father is has not yet been reported. Pierre is described variously as a hands-on dad who was frequently seen around the house although he and Armstrong didn't live together.  He has no history of criminal behavior and none of domestic violence. Pierre and Armstrong were often seen by neighbors doing family activities together.  Those included cooking out on the barbecue grill, going shopping and doing laundry together. Still, there was conflict in the family.  Just what that was about remains unclear, but it's been reported that Pierre had at least one romantic affair outside his relationship with Armstrong.  As Armstrong headed toward the river with the children, the older relative she had called alerted police who went to the house only to find it vacant.  They've questioned Pierre and released him without charges. One suggestive fact is that Armstrong had asked the landlord to change the locks twice in the previous year for the purpose of keeping Mr. Pierre out of the apartment.  Why would she do that if there was no history of domestic violence on his part and the police had no record of any disturbance there? There could of course be many reasons.  But a woman who kills herself and three of her children apparently because of the father's relationship with another woman is one thing.  A woman who enlists the aid of the landlord to keep him out of her and the children's lives is another.  And a woman who gives neighbors every indication of conducting regular family life with the same man is yet another.  How can we explain all that?  Based on what little we have to go on, I'd say it looks like a couple with kids who tried to make a go of it, but, for whatever reasons, ultimately failed.  Having failed, the man moved on to other relationships but still wanted to play an active part in his kids' lives.  The mother then moved to marginalize him as their father and, when he persisted, took the ultimate step.  If that's how it played out, it would be a lot like the Riggi case in Scotland. As I say, I have little factual information to go on, but that's the narrative I'd offer based on what there is.  We'll see. And, speaking of insufficient information, the linked-to article is a fairly long one.  The reporter quotes eight different people including Ryan, La'Shaun, various relatives and neighbors, the police chief, the mayor and the landlord.  He does not quote the father, Jean Pierre. That's not because Pierre is unavailable.  After all, the police talked to him.  So it's interesting that the narrative of this whole event is being cobbled together without the input of one of the major players in the drama - the dad.  In an article that spends considerable time discussing family activities and what happened just before Armstrong took the lives of herself and three children, it would seem that Pierre would have a lot to offer. But given the fact that there's no boilerplate statement to the effect that "attempts to contact Pierre" were unsuccessful" or that "phone calls weren't returned," it's beginning to look like the reporter didn't even try. He does include this quotation from Armstrong's aunt:
"She"s a good mother,' Ms. Gilliam said. "Just because she drove a car...' Her voice trailed off. Then she said, "Nobody knows what my niece went through.'
I'm sure we'll find out in the upcoming days. In the meantime articles like this one seek to exonerate Armstrong on the basis of literally no information (WNYT, 4/14/11).  The article speculates that, although there's no evidence of mental illness on Armstrong's part, she might have been mentally ill and she might have had post-partum depression.  So it quotes a psychologist about what might have happened if Armstrong had a mental illness that was post-partum depression or psychosis. All of that is of course true.  Countless things might have happened.  But when journalists engage not only in rank speculation, but in speculating about speculation, you know there's an agenda other than reporting the facts about a terrible tragedy. And since the second piece ignores the dad too, I'd say it's trying to get readers to forgive Armstrong her awful deed rather than condemn her for it.  As with the NYT article, Pierre is probably the person best situated to throw light on Armstrong's state of mind, but again, he's silenced. I have no desire to cast aspersions on anyone who is truly mentally ill.  If Armstrong were incapable of understanding what she was doing, then she has my ready forgiveness.  So far, though, all signs point to her being in full possession of her faculties. The point being that, if a father had snatched four children from under the nose of their mother and driven them and himself into a cold watery grave,  because he was upset that she had had an affair, would newspaper articles and radio blogs be so eager to absolve him of wrongdoing that they refused to interview the mom?  I think the question answers itself. I've written plenty about a culture that clings to the archaic notion that mothers can do nothing wrong and fathers can do nothing right.  The press coverage so far of this terrible incident is yet one more instance of exactly that.  And until that culture changes, mothers will still do the lion's share of childcare and fathers will be marginalized in the lives of their children.

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A lot of people are familiar with one of the classic Catch-22 scenarios in criminal law.  When a person is convicted of a crime and sent to prison, one of the conditions of parole is that he/she admit guilt and show contrition for the bad act.  The problem comes when the convicted person is innocent.  The Innocence Project and many similar state-based organizations have often revealed the "damned if you do/damned if you don't" nature of state parole systems.  These guys (over 90% are men) are faced with a terrible choice - "admit" "guilt" and possibly get out of prison where you don't belong in the first place, or maintain your innocence and stay inside. Thus, in this Orwellian world, does actual innocence keep you in prison.  (I'm aware that the word "Orwellian" is overused, but it clearly applies here.) As I said, many people are aware of this.  What they likely aren't aware of (I know I wasn't), however, is this (KTNV, 4/15/11). It seems that Las Vegas resident Victor Fakoya was babysitting a roommate's toddler when the child died.  That got him charged with murder by local prosecutors, but it turned out that the child had been seriously ill for some time prior to its death. Fakoya's first trial resulted in a hung jury, so prosecutors tried again.  The second time, Fakoya was acquitted, i.e. he was found not guilty of the charges against him.   The jury foreman, Hale Benton, called the child's death "an accident" that wasn't Mr. Fakoya's fault. Fine.  All's well that ends well, right?  Perhaps so, but this one hasn't ended, not by a long shot. As his attorney, Kristina Wildeveld describes it,
"After he was released from the criminal trial, he was released from jail," says Wildeveld. "He went home and CPS showed up at his door and told him there was an active CPS case and he wasn't allowed to reside in his home."
That would be bad enough, but there's more.  CPS wants to terminate Fakoya's parental rights based on the death of his roommate's child.  Fakoya, it seems has two children of his own who've been in the care of their mother since his arrest in 2008. Dissatisfied by their failures in criminal court, Las Vegas prosecutors have now intervened in the family court to prevent Fakoya's having any contact with his own children and to in fact terminate his rights altogether. And here's where that old familiar Catch-22 comes in.  CPS is demanding that Fakoya take a child abuse class, of which one graduation requirement is... can you guess?  That's right, an admission of guilt. So, he's been found not guilty by the jury, one of whose members says the child's death was not Fakoya's fault.  That's enough to acquit him of criminal liability, but if he ever wants to see his kids again, he has to admit to something he and at least 12 other people, say he didn't do. What's left unsaid is whether CPS and prosecutors would drop their efforts to terminate his rights if he were to admit guilt.  After all, in a sense it's as much a Catch-22 for them as it is for him.  Their line runs something like this: "Continue to claim innocence and we'll take your kids from you; admit that you're responsible for the death of a child and you can keep them."  Needless to say, that's an awkward stance for them to maintain. Meanwhile, Fakoya has exhausted his financial reserves.  Wildeveld says he can't pay her fees, so he'll have a court-appointed lawyer to try to keep his kids. Fakoya's not a hard case; he says he'll gladly take the class, but without the requirement that he admit guilt.  That's not good enough for prosecutors and CPS for whom nothing but moral abasement and kowtowing to their authority will be good enough. Now, theoretically, a mere finding of 'not guilty' in a murder case may not be enough to prove that a person is a fit parent.  Murder is an intentional act and acquittal may mean nothing more than that the accused didn't kill someone on purpose.  And that's far from enough to show that he/she is qualified to be a parent.  After all, CPS rightly takes children from parents every day based only on neglect. But in this case, the child's death was not due to any failure on Fakoya's part.  That's what Hale Benton says, at any rate.  So at this point, prosecutors and CPS look to be acting punitively. And there's another issue that no one has brought up.  Fakoya is married.  His wife is the mother of his two children.  So, what if prosecutors and CPS succeed in their mission to deprive Fakoya of his kids?  Well, he obviously can't live with his wife or have much contact with her. So, in addition to trying to take his children, they're apparently trying to take his marriage as well.  If they succeed at that though, it'll be because they terminated his parental rights which in all probability means he won't be required to pay child support.  That in turn means that his children not only won't have a father, they'll live on the earnings of their single mother alone, without the support of her ex. In short, the ramifications of the actions of prosecutors and CPS go far beyond their dogged pursuit of an innocent man, bad as that is by itself. 'Tis a tangled web indeed.  But it's one that could be untangled easily by prosecutors and CPS seeing sense and letting Victor Fakoya go home to his wife and kids.  

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At Fathers and Families we receive many letters from divorced or separated military servicemembers with painful but preventable family law problems. Currently, Georgia is one of the few remaining states that has no protections in statute. To address these problems, Department of Defense Liaisons Office legislative representatives and Fathers and Families legislative representative Michael Robinson worked to introduce Georgia"s SB 112 and HB 282. Both bills largely mirror Fathers and Families' California AB 2416, which was passed into law last fall. Many months in the making, the bills will help protect military parents" child custody rights during and after deployments. Because of the rapid progress of SB 112, a decision was made to focus on that bill rather than additionally moving HB 282 and risk bills having competing amendments. This week Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 112. We applaud the Governor, and also Representative John Yates and Senator Joshua McKoon for sponsoring the bills. SB 112 will address servicemembers' child custody issues in several ways. For one, they will authorize courts to issue orders granting grandparents, stepparents and extended families the ability to exercise a deployed soldier"s normal parenting time. By encouraging courts to issue such orders, we allow children to preserve their loving bonds with their deployed parents, and also protect the important relationships children share with their grandparents, stepparents, and other extended family. These bills will substantially reduce the current problem of deployed servicemembers being unable to enforce visitation/contact orders. SB 112 creates a rebuttable presumption that upon a servicemember's return from deployment, child custody and visitation orders will revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children"s lives, and helps prevent military parents from having to re-litigate their cases.

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Here's Dr. Amy Baker on Parental Alienation Syndrome (Psychology Today, 4/14/11).  Because it's a short article that directly states the parental behaviors that lead to the development of PAS by a child and the subsequent behaviors by the child that make up the syndrome, I reproduce it in full.  For all those interested in PAS, it makes for a handy reference. I've said it many times - I'm no psychologist and therefore I'm entirely unqualified to say either whether PAS constitutes a discrete syndrome or whether it should be included in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  To my mind, for advocates of fairness in family courts, neither of those issues should be of much importance. That's because what's matters in family court is less the naming of a set of actions by a child and more a parent's attempt to turn the child against the other parent.  It's that parental behavior that is designed to affect custody decisions by courts and of course sometimes does. In short, it's parental alienation that can damage parent-child relationships, alter court decisions and ultimately separate parents from children.  Whether a child exhibits a specifically named set of symptoms is very important for the child, very important for psychology and relatively unimportant in equalizing parental rights in family courts. If PAS is not included in the upcoming edition of the DSM, opponents of fathers' rights will doubtless toast the event with champagne, but their joy will be misplaced.  The simple fact is that an increasing number of states are doing one very important thing; they're including as a vital part of the 'best interests of the child' the willingness of each parent to encourage a healthy relationship with the other parent. That is, state statutes are beginning to specifically oppose parental alienation.  Given that, evidence of alienating behavior will always be relevant and material in custody cases.  So whatever the short-term fate of PAS inclusion in the DSM, attorneys will continue to adduce evidence of alienation and courts will more and more punish alienating parents. That should be good for kids, and it'll mean courts are emphasizing appropriate factors in deciding custody.  With any luck, it'll also start to reduce alienating behavior, and that can't be a bad thing. Here's Dr. Baker's article:
Parental alienation is a set of strategies that parents use to undermine and interfere with a child's relationship with his or her other parent. This often but not always happens when parents are engaged in a custody battle over the children. There is no one definitive set of behaviors that constitute parental alienation but research with both parents and children has revealed a core set of 17 primary parental alienation strategies, including bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), forcing child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent. Taken together, these 17 parental alienation strategies work to create psychological distance between the child and the targeted parent such that the relationship becomes conflict ridden and eventually non-existent, as the child is empowered to cut that parent off completely. Each of these strategies serve to A) further the child's cohesion and alignment with the alienating parent; B) create psychological distance between the child and the targeted parent; C) intensify the targeted parent's anger and hurt over the child's behavior; and D) incite conflict between the child and the targeted parent should the targeted parent challenge or react to the child's behavior. Parents who try to alienate their child from his or her other parent convey a three-part message to the child: (1) I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to feel good about yourself, (2) the other parent is dangerous and unavailable, and (3) pursuing a relationship with that parent jeopardizes your relationship with me. Children who succumb to the pressure and ally themselves with one parent against the other often exhibit a set of behaviors that have become known as parental alienation syndrome: (1) The first manifestation is a campaign of denigration against the targeted parent. The child becomes obsessed with hatred of the targeted parent (in the absence of actual abuse or neglect that would explain such negative attitudes). (2) Weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the depreciation of the targeted parent. The objections made in the campaign of denigration are often not of the magnitude that would lead a child to hate a parent, such as slurping soup or serving spicy food. (3) Lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent. The child expresses no ambivalence about the alienating parent, demonstrating an automatic, reflexive, idealized support of him or her. (4) The child strongly asserts that the decision to reject the other parent is her own. This is what is known as the "Independent Thinker" phenomenon. (5) Absence of guilt about the treatment of the targeted parent. Alienated children will make statements such as, "He doesn't deserve to see me." (6) Reflexive support for the alienating parent in the parental conflict. There is no willingness or attempt to be impartial when faced with inter-parental conflicts. (7) Use of borrowed scenarios. These children often make accusations towards the targeted parent that utilize phrases and ideas adopted wholesale from the alienating parent. And, finally, (8) The hatred of the targeted parent spreads to his or her extended family. Not only is the targeted parent denigrated, despised, and avoided but so too are his/her entire family. Formerly beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are suddenly avoided and rejected. When children exhibit these 8 behaviors the most likely explanation is the manipulation of the favored parent. Once children exhibit these behaviors much of the damage is done. Prevention is critical as it is easier to stop children from becoming alienated than it is to undo the alienation once the children have adopted false ideas and feelings about the rejected parent. For this reason, parents who are concerned about the use of alienation strategies on the part of the other parent should become educated as quickly as possible about different options for responding to parental alienation. Resources for targeted parents are available at www.amyjlbaker.com.  

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One of the best (to my mind) parts of the proposed Alabama law that would create equally shared parenting in that state comes in its preamble.  It says that the bill seeks to bring custody law "into line with current social science" on the importance of both parents to the wellbeing of children.  What a concept - actually trying to fit the law on parenting to the great mountain of sociology and psychology on parents and children. That of course raises a question that so many of us advocates for family court reform have been shouting for years - why do family court practices bear so little resemblance to what we know about the value of fathers to children?   As but one example, Canadian researcher Paul Millar points out that there is literally no evidence that children's outcomes are enhanced by maternal custody post-divorce.  Indeed, there's some evidence that paternal custody might be better.  And yet, in some 90% of Canadian custody cases, Mom becomes the primary custodian. Put simply, the almost total disconnect between the science of child welfare and the practices of family courts suffuses the whole thing with an air of unreality.  That it's all done in the name of the 'best interests of the child,' makes it actually surreal. This article brings to mind another example (New York Times, 4/17/11). Up until very recently - within about 25 years - there was no scientifically accurate way to prove paternity.  Blood typing could clearly exclude a man as the father of a child and it could attest to the possibility that he was.  But there was simply no way to certainly establish paternity. Given that, the law long ago adopted the presumption that any child born to a married woman was fathered by her husband.  Since we could rarely prove false paternity, the law short-circuited the whole process and simply established a rule.  Husbands were considered the fathers of their wives' children unless they could prove otherwise. That was, if not an entirely fair result, at least a workable one. But given the development of genetic testing, the presumption of paternity is entirely unnecessary.  It retains all the unfairness of the outdated rule but has none of its raison d'être - in short, the worst of both worlds. And yet, in the face of a scientifically compelling reason for abandoning the presumption, it hangs doggedly on.  As with their wholesale refusal to grant equal custody to fit parents, family courts are stuck in the past.  We now have the easy ability to establish paternity; we just don't use it. The Times article tells of an attempt in New York State to dismantle the presumption of marital paternity.  And since the world of parental rights and duties is so strange, it shouldn't surprise us to learn that the effort comes not from a defrauded dad, but a woman, and it has nothing to do with parental rights, but with money. Nina Montepagani was born in New York in 1952 to two Italian immigrants.  Her mother died of cancer when she was about seven years old and she was raised by her father, Giuseppe Viola, whom she loves dearly. 
Giuseppe died in 1987, at the age of 95. She said she had seen him every day. "It was just a joy to me to sit next to him and watch TV,' she said.
But... Throughout her life there were tantalizing suggestions that Viola might not be her dad.  That's because her mother may or may not have had a brief affair with a Dr. Sebastiano Raeli in Rome before coming to the United States.  It was only eight months later that little Nina was born. And ever after, a strange but persistent connection to Raeli existed between him and Nina, him and Giuseppe and him and her mother.  It was a connection that no one wanted to discuss, but brought floods of tears whenever the subject came up. Now, Giuseppe Viola was an illiterate laborer - a fine father, but poor.  Dr. Raeli however was a different story.  Over the years he became somewhat of a hotel magnate, amassing nine properties in Rome.  When he died, he and his wife left it all - some $100 million worth - to an Italian university. But Italian law forbids such a transfer if the deceased had one or more children.  Half of his estate must go to the offspring and not surprisingly, it is that $50 million that Nina Montepagani wants. She filed suit some years ago in Italy, but the suit was dismissed.  The Raelis said they had no children, Nina was born while Giuseppe was married and Nina's birth certificate says that Giuseppe Viola is her father.  That creates the presumption of paternity in New York that the Italian court is required to honor. End of story, right?  Wrong. Nina Montepagani has sued the State of New York to remove Giuseppe Viola's name from her birth certificate.  Exactly what effect that would have on the Italian court, I have no idea.  After all, the presumption of paternity arises less from the birth certificate than from the fact that the birth occurred while Giuseppe and Anna (Nina's mother) were married, and that is an undeniable fact. Still, it's impossible to ignore the fact that, as in all cases of potential paternity fraud, there's now a simple solution - a solution that didn't exist back in 1952 - DNA testing.  If you're Nina Montepagani, it must seem a trifle odd that, with the answer to the vital question of paternity within easy reach, courts should rely on a legal fiction that has no legitimate place in 21st century jurisprudence. Indeed, with $50 million on the line, I'd guess it's more than just a trifle odd. And, although most men who face the same perversity of family law in paternity fraud cases don't have that much money riding on the outcome, they do have real relationships with real children and real mothers at stake.  So in some way, Nina Montepagani can probably feel their pain.  She's stuck in the same weird, anachronistic world they inhabit and surely it feels outrageous to her in the same way.  We can all know the truth, but courts and laws won't let us.  They prefer fiction. So maybe it wouldn't be so odd after all if New York changed its presumption of paternity not because of a wronged father but because of his daughter, and not because of the loss of a child but because of money. Stranger things have happened - in life and in fiction. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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The campus of Duke University is calm now.  It's mid-April and final exams are approaching.  Semester papers are coming due and anyway, the men's basketball team, a perennial powerhouse, lost in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament this year, so that distraction is gone. The faculty must be busy too, since we're not hearing much from them.  The Group of 88 must have disbanded at some point, and in any event, there are no radical students to egg them on, no district attorney to wave fabricated charges in their faces like a red cape before a bull. But what, after all is there to get excited about?  Merely this (WRAL, 4/13/11). Yes, Crystal Gayle Mangum is in jail again and, if my intuition is correct, there to stay - maybe for life.  Mangum of course is the woman who infamously charged three Duke students with rape one night five years ago.  Her charges, never believable, were swallowed hook line and sinker by police, the District Attorney's office and hundreds, perhaps thousands of faculty and students who turned as one on the three innocent young men. The university's administration at the time added cowardice to hypocrisy by failing to raise such basic issues as the presumption of innocence.  That fell to the three young men, their coach, their teammates and the women's Lacrosse team who never wavered in their belief that the three were innocent. This was all the more remarkable for the fact that young men's behavior from the outset demonstrated innocence.  They volunteered to take DNA tests, opened the fraternity house to police investigation and took and passed polygraph tests.  All that produced no evidence of guilt. But as police investigated, evidence of innocence piled up and up.  One of the accused produced credit card and building entrance card evidence that he in fact was elsewhere at the time of the alleged assault.  Countless other facts pointed directly at actual innocence. None of that deflected for an instant the twin crusades of Michael Nifong, District Attorney who was running for election and the Group of 88 Duke professors who at times seemed to be running for village idiot.  In their cossetted little world, the three young men were presumptively privileged and, having been charged with rape by a women, must have been guilty.  Such is the "logic" of higher education these days. So compelling to them was their own narrative of privilege and oppression that they forgot entirely to consult facts and common sense.  Even a cursory glance at either would have given even the most anti-male, anti-jock person pause. And then there was the complainant herself, Ms. Mangum.  Facts about her piled up as well, like the false claim ten years before that she had been raped by three men that even her own father said was made up.  Her multiple run-ins with the law, her actual job as stripper (some said prostitute) and her tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol would have tipped off less excitable folks than the Group of 88. But no, by then they were in full cry and ill-prepared when their ideologically constructed worldview came crashing down around them.  It took a full year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the State of North Carolina to officially find the three not merely not guilty, but innocent and to drop all charges against them.  The coup de grace to the whole sorry affair came when Michael Nifong was disbarred for his disgraceful behavior including withholding exculpatory evidence - the DNA tests that proved innocence. That was five years ago and during the ensuing years, Crystal Gayle Mangum has rarely been out of the news.  She received no punishment for falsely accusing the young men or wasting state and county resources.  Last year I reported on her assault of her boyfriend and setting fire to his clothing.  She got off with barely a tap on the wrist. And that's too bad because, if the Durham police are right, she's now committed murder, stabbing her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, to death with a kitchen knife to the chest.  If she's convicted, my guess is that the local police and prosecutors will finally have had their fill of her and put her away for life.  That of course will come too late to save Reginald Daye, but why would a Duke faculty member notice a minor detail like that?  Why lift your bespectacled face out of your books to notice when a mere man is actually killed as opposed to the false claims of rape by a woman?  Why heed an actual fact, particularly one that holds the power to disturb your carefully-constructed universe. No, leave it to the neighbor who called 911 as Daye lay bleeding to death to get right what some of the supposedly best minds in the country couldn't.
When asked for a description of the girlfriend, the caller said, "It's Crystal Mangum. THE Crystal Mangum." He then added, "I told him she was trouble from the beginning."
That simple truth is one that many people could have recognized years ago.  If they had, much embarrassment and much torment would have been avoided. Daye died, perhaps ironically, at Duke University Hospital.  The silence on campus as he did was deafening. Meanwhile, remember Maryanne Godboldo, the Detroit single mother who made the mistake of using her own judgment about whether to give a certain psychotropic drug to her 13-year-old daughter?  That drove the local CPS to get an ex parte court order to turn over the girl. Godboldo refused, the police were called, an altercation ensued and the girl was taken by CPS to a psychiatric facility where, two weeks later she was reported to be doing well having still not received the medication that was the cause of her being taken in the first place. I opined at the time that that, plus CPS's refusal to hand the girl over to her father, strongly indicated that the whole thing looked less like concern for the girl and more like rage on the part of the state at being thwarted in the exercise of its power by the likes of a mere parent. Well, now this articletells us that it wasn't just the police that showed up at Godboldo's door, it was the SWAT team complete with a tank for what purpose I can only guess (Daily Mail, 4/15/11).  Just picture it, a single mother inside her apartment with her young daughter who's having some mental/emotional difficulties, while outside there are a multitude of armed SWAT team members and a tank. You can always gauge how much you've affronted the state by the level of its response to the affront.  Given that, I'd say they perceive Godboldo's action as a serious threat. And maybe that tells us something important about how the state perceives its interest in intervening in family life and particularly in parenting decisions.  So you think you know what's best for your child, you think you have autonomy in the matter, you think those Supreme Court cases saying the state can't interfere in the parenting decisions of a fit parent actually mean something.  Well think again. And that knock on your door?  It's not UPS.

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With the murder/suicide by Lashandra Armstrong of herself and her three youngest children last week has come the inevitable spate of articles attempting to absolve her of guilt for her terrible act. Some have speculated that she may have suffered from postpartum depression even though no article has yet produced any evidence that she was or that she was undergoing treatment. Others have seized on the words of a school aide who said Armstrong seemed to have been acting in a paranoid way shortly before drowning herself and her children in the Hudson River.  While that observation may be suggestive of something, it's anything but conclusive. By contrast, this article takes a different tack, but incongruously ends up in much the same place as the others (MSNBC, 4/17/11). 

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the-in-sight-youth-project The In-Sight Youth Project helps foster children and homeless teenagers. They are sponsoring a benefit concert in Los Angeles on Saturday May 7--to learn more, click here, to buy tickets, click here.

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Here's an interesting development.  It's a link to a bill that's before the Illinois Senate, having passed the House by a vote of 78-36. The bill is entitled the Steven Watkins Memorial Act.  I've written before about Steven Watkins.  He was an Illinois man who was shot to death as he arrived to pick up his daughter for his court-ordered visitation one day in 2008. The shooter was his ex-wife's mother.  Last year she was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison.  She was 75 years old at the time of sentencing. Since then, the big news about the case has involved the efforts of Watkins' parents to get a court to order visitation with their granddaughter.  They've been successful at getting the order, but not the visitation.  That's because Watkins' ex has fled the state for parts unknown.  She is now under several indictment for violations of the visitation order. So House Bill 1604 is an effort to put some teeth into visitation orders.  Not coincidentally, it amends the state law providing for the suspension of the drivers' license of parents who don't pay child support.  If the bill passes, Illinois parents who don't comply with visitation orders can have their drivers license suspended until they come into compliance. On the surface, the bill makes about as much sense as suspending the license of someone who doesn't pay child support.  The question arises, "how does drivers' license suspension promote compliance?"  The answer is that usually it doesn't. Still, you've got to like HB 1604.  Countless advocates for parental equality in family courts have remarked on the fact that states use huge amounts of resources and the most draconian laws to force non-custodial parents to pay child support, but almost none to enforce visitation orders. Not long ago I did this piece on Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's crowing about all his office was doing to enforce visitation orders.  He was all puffed up about the state's getting $500,000 in federal money to supposedly promote visitation enforcement in Texas counties with well over 5 million people.  Trifling as that sum is, it was directed at organizations whose missions are mainly the collection of child support, not enforcing child access.  So in fact very little of the already paltry sum was going to promote fathers' access to their children. And, based on the AG's own figures, I calculated that Texas spends at least $257 million per year on child support enforcement.  Compare that with the $500,000 for visitation (even though it's actually not that much) and you have a fair assessment of what value Texas places on each activity.  The ratio's about 500:1. The law says the two are separate.  Every divorce lawyer has explained to a client, "just because she doesn't allow you to see the child doesn't mean you can quit paying."  Legally, the same is true for the custodial parent; failure to pay doesn't absolve her of allowing him to see the child. But what's true in law may not always be true in fact.  Whether courts and lawyers like it or not, parents see a connection between child access and child support.  For a dad, paying every month or two weeks is a lot easier if he sees little Andy or Jenny regularly and without complaint.  For Mom, allowing visitation is less onerous if the check's there on time every time. And that's not just anecdotal evidence or shoot-from-the-hip common sense; social science bears it out.  Sanford Braver's studies in the 90s showed that dads are  more likely to pay fully and on time if they get to see their children.  So once again, there's a real disconnect between the law and the way people actually behave.  The law says visitation and child support have nothing to do with each other.  The actual behavior of divorced parents says otherwise. That's why, to me, Illinois HB 1604 is interesting.  On its face it doesn't accomplish a lot, but what it suggests is important.  Its clear subtext is that there's a connection between visitation and support; that's why it moves in the direction of treating them the same.  Fail to pay, lose your license; interfere with visitation, lose your license. If they care to notice, it's also a clear rebuke to family court judges who, even though they're equipped with the power to enforce their visitation orders, routinely fail to do so.  It's one of the quiet scandals of family courts.  It's quiet because the press rarely notices it; it's a scandal because it constitutes clear discrimination against non-custodial parents, about 84% of whom are fathers.  And it's no less a scandal because the failure to ensure healthy relationships with both parents post divorce is terribly hurtful to children.  Again, the same family courts that never cease intoning the mantra of the "best interests of the child" seem to have little or no information about the social science on what promotes child well-being. So whatever the fate of Illinois HB 1604, it's good to see legislators who are aware of the disgraceful failure of family courts to enforce fathers' access to their kids post-divorce and are moving, even tentatively, to do something about it. Thanks to Jim for the heads-up.

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I've reported many times about the fact that adoption laws are one of the many - and in some cases most outrageous - ways in which fathers lose their children.  This is another example and it comes from the State of California that is one of the major offenders when it comes to depriving fathers of their children via adoption (Leagle.com, 4/15/11). There are some 29 states with Putative Father Registries whose frank purpose is to deny to fathers notice of judicial proceedings to terminate their rights.  But California is not one of those states.  Its discrimination against unmarried fathers is, if anything, even more blatant than that of PFR states.

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Two cases, conflicting results.  The subject is surrogate parenthood and the rights of surrogates and others.  Here's a hint: if you want a surrogate mother to carry and bear your child, don't do it in the United Kingdom.  Australia's a better choice. In the first case here, two gay men in Australia wanted children, so they recruited an anonymous egg-donor, a surrogate to carry and bear the twins (Adelaide Now, 1/22/11).  One of the men provided the sperm.
The 20-month-old girls were born in Mumbai to an Indian woman who carried eggs from an anonymous donor impregnated with sperm from one of the Melbourne men.
The couple went to the Family Court seeking full parental status for the non-genetic male partner.
And that has been granted, presumably on the basis of his hands-on fatherhood.  As the judge said at trial,
"As a matter of law, the word 'parent' tends to suggest some biological connection, but ... biology does not really matter; it is all about parental responsibility."
Hmm.  I know he was speaking just about the particular case, but biology matters in family law in all sorts of ways.  Indeed, in Australia as well as in many other places, maternal biology alone is sufficient to confer parental rights.  Fathers, particularly unmarried ones aren't so fortunate.  In their case, in many jurisdictions, the judge is correct. And of course biology was vitally important to at least one of the men in the case.  After all, gay men and lesbian women adopt children all the time, but that's not what the Australian pair did.  They went to a lot more trouble and expense for one reason - to ensure that the DNA of one of the men was present in the children.  To them, biology was important, whatever the judge thinks about it. Then of course there's the biological mother.  She's apparently agreed to stay out of the family, but what if she changed her mind?  In England only last year, a gay man who provided sperm for two lesbian partners to conceive a child ended up with equal parenting rights.  Admittedly, they agreed that he should have a role in caring for the children, but it was his biological connection that encouraged him to do so. What would be the biological mothers' rights if she wanted to assert them? For that matter, what if the Indian woman decided she'd bonded with the kids during pregnancy - as she likely did - and wished to claim parental rights?  Would the judge say that, in some mysterious way, her carrying them for nine months didn't constitute nurturing or responsible parenting?  That would be a stretch.  With a little effort, those twins could have four parents. Let's be clear; I'm all for the rights of gay men and lesbian women to be parents.  What evidence we have indicates that they're every bit as capable and loving as straight parents, so I'm glad to support their parental rights.  And I agree with the judge that if a man has acted the part of father, he should have the rights of one. But surrogacy is one of the most tangled webs there is and the possibilities are so varied that a single rule on parental rights would be hard to craft. Surrogacy usually includes at least one agreement among all the parties that the surrogate mom won't have any parental rights once the child is born.  But, depending on the jurisdiction, those agreements may or may not be enforceable. That's part of the reason this case came out the way it did (Daily Mail, 4/12/11).  In England, a married couple, Mr. and Ms. W, was desperate to have a child.  They'd suffered no fewer than six late-stage miscarriages due to her surgery for uterine cancer.  The pair despaired of ever having a child of their own.  So they hit upon the idea of a surrogate.  They found a willing woman, Miss N, who seems to have been all too willing to accept the £10,000 they offered for her medical and other expenses. The three agreed that she would give up the child and all her rights once the child was born. But six months into her pregnancy, Miss N changed her mind and, in violation of the agreement she'd signed, decided to keep the child for herself.  And British courts backed her up. It seems that in England, the surrogacy agreement is not binding, at least on the surrogate.  (I wonder what would have happened if she had turned the child over to the couple and they had refused to pay.) So with the agreement invalid, and the surrogate claiming parental rights a custody battle was inevitable.  It lasted six months and Miss N prevailed.  Why?  Well, students of U.S. family law won't be surprised to learn that it's in large part because she'd kept and raised the child during the term of the custody dispute.
In January, in a rare case, Miss N was awarded custody after a judge deemed it was in the child"s best interests because there was a ‘clear attachment" between the mother and daughter.
I should make it clear here that the judge didn't think much of any of the three.  All seem to have lied under oath several times.  And none of the three look like very promising parents.  So there were competing claims about who could do the best job of parenting.  But what seems clear is that Miss N kept the child and bonded with her and vice versa.  That allowed the child's court-appointed guardian to testify in court about their good relationship.  Had Miss N kept her promise for which she'd been paid so well, none of that would have happened. If that looks to you a lot like many U.S. adoption cases, you're right.  In those cases, it's possession that seems to count most to courts.  Possession leads to bonding which leads to custody.  As I've written before, in those cases, if adoptive parents can just get possession of a child and keep it during the pendency of litigation (usually several years), then - voila! - it's theirs irrespective of the fact that it was all done in violation of the fathers' rights. The same is true in the W's case.  Miss N had possession of the child and naturally the child has become attached to her.  Again, never mind that she did so in violation of her agreement for which she'd already been given a hefty sum of money. I've likened a few U.S. adoption cases to child theft.  This looks the same. Indeed, it's fascinating how similar the case is to so many others we've discussed.  It even includes allegations by Miss N of domestic abuse by Mr. W against his wife - allegations that both Mr. and Mrs. W denied in court, even though they were disbelieved by the judge.  In any case, I guess Ms. W now has some idea of what it's like to be a father in a custody case.  You have your child taken from you (in this case by a surrogate) for no good cause and that taking is then used to justify your secondary status as parent.  And just in case you think you have a chance, there are those allegations of DV to make sure you don't. Just to add insult to injury, the court also ordered Mr. W to pay child support in the sum of £568 per month.  That's right, it's Mr. W who has to pay.  They both agreed to hire the surrogate, but it's his sperm, his kid, don't you know.  That of course brings us back full circle to the Australian judge's remark that "biology does not really matter."  Oh. But to sum up the way the British courts have botched this whole case, I'll leave it to Mr. W.
She has taken away our baby and now she is taking our money. To me, that is completely wrong.
Thanks to John for the second piece.

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This article is interesting for several reasons (The Independent, 4/19/11). What's perhaps most interesting is its headline - "Shared Parenting: A Disastrous Double Act."  Needless to say, as someone who relentlessly promotes greater parental equality, that grabbed my attention.  After all, the Guardian/Independent has never been what you'd call father friendly, so what would it find to be "disastrous" about shared parenting. Readers may be disappointed to learn that the headline has little to do with the article.

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Meanwhile in Texas, there's this breaking story (ABC News, 4/14/11). It all started some five years ago.  That's when 30-year-old Anne Lynn Montgomery started having sex with 15-year-old Bradman Moore.  She was a teacher at his school.  A year later, she gave birth to his daughter.  A year or so after that, she gave birth to another daughter, also his.  My arithmetic tells me the girls are now three and four years old, so why is this just now becoming an issue?  It's hard to tell at this point.  The facts of the case remain murky. What seems to have happened is that Montgomery went to court to get a TRO against Moore based on alleged threats he made against either her or the kids.  He denies doing any such thing, but whatever actually happened, the TRO was issued. That might not have been the brightest move she could have made though, because once a court was involved, certain facts came to light.  And those facts don't exactly paint Anne Lynn Montgomery in the most favorable light. Slapped with a TRO, young Mr. Moore, who is now 20, slapped back, asking the court for an order granting him parenting time with his kids.  That too was granted, which would seem to cast doubt on Montgomery's claims that led to the TRO.  After all, how dangerous is Moore likely to be if the judge gives him parenting time? And since this has all hit the courts and the press, the police seem to have taken note of the fact that, five years ago, an adult teacher had a lengthy sexual relationship with an underage boy.  That of course violated the state's laws on what used to be called statutory rape. But it's not just the police who have noticed Anne Lynn Montgomery's wrongdoing; the school district has too.  It apparently fired her because she's alleged to have committed multiple felonies as well as violated school policy. So among other things, the teacher is getting an education: when you commit crimes, don't go to court and tell everyone about it. Where this will end up is anyone's guess, but it should be interesting to follow.  In the meantime, I'll engage in a bit of speculation.  My guess is that what led up to the TRO goes something like this:  over the years, Moore matures and becomes more and more interested in his kids; Montgomery resists his efforts at involvement with his children; he threatens to report her to the police if she doesn't allow him more time with the girls; it is this threat or one like it that forms the basis of her complaint against him. We'll see about that.  What we'll also see is the weight given by the family court judge to the fact that the mother took advantage of the youth and immaturity of a 15-year-old boy to have sex with and have children by him.  Whatever the police decide to do, Anne Lynn Montgomery committed a felony every time the two had sex. And while I'm on that topic, Moore claims he's not the only one.  He says there were a total of six boys with whom Montgomery had sex back when she was still a teacher.  She and her lawyer have no comment about that charge, but my guess is that Moore knows at least some of the young men to whom he was referring.  So I expect we'll be hearing from them soon and then we'll know if we can call Anne Lynn Montgomery a serial rapist or not. Whatever the case, we now have a mother who looks like a criminal and a young father who wants greater contact with his daughters than he's so far had.  In short, we've got a custody battle that's just begun.  As it unfolds, it'll be fascinating to see how the judge weighs all the various factors and what the outcome is.  Does Montgomery go to prison?  Is her contact with her kids sharply limited due to her previous child abuse?  What provision can Bradman Moore make for his daughters?  Does he get primary custody?  Does she pay him child support? The answers to those and many other questions will tell us something about where we stand as a society regarding fathers' rights.  To what extent do old, inaccurate narratives of maternal goodness and paternal corruption still hold sway in the decisions judges make even in cases like this one? Stay tuned.

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Overall, this is a good article on the misuse of temporary restraining orders in custody cases (Huffington Post, 4/13/11).  It's far from perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.  The author, Liz Mandarano, is a lawyer in family court and knows whereof she speaks. Importantly, she goes further than most others (me included).  She doesn't just kvetch about the many wrongs of the TRO system, but she provides some worthwhile suggestions for change.  Some of those require changes to existing laws that only state legislatures can enact, but others can be done by individuals in individual cases. Mandarano isn't anti-woman; quite the contrary.  She sees TROs as valuable legal instruments that can save people from serious injury or even death, and of course in some instances, she's right about that.
However, it is also an unfortunate truth that because they are incredibly easy to obtain, orders of protection are misused, often against men. And this false practice clogs the system unnecessarily, preventing true victims from having their cases thoroughly examined and depleting victim-assistance resources.
She goes on to recite what most of us know - that TROs require little or no evidence of little or no harm to the "victim."  A vague fear of future harm based on no objective threat is sufficient. And the consequences for the target of the TRO are draconian.  He (it's usually a man) can be tossed out of his house, taken away from his kids and his belongings, and denied access to important information he needs to defend himself. Is he entirely innocent?  Does he have no record of abuse?  Are the allegations fabricated to gain the upper hand in a custody battle?  All that is his tough luck. Mandarano recites the famous David Letterman case of 2005 in which a New Mexico woman got a judge to issue a TRO against the comedian whom she'd never met and who lived many states away.  And she mentions a pithy little fact that so many overlook about that case - "the issuing judge stood by his ruling." What?  How could that be?  How could he defend an order that was so flagrantly wrong?  The answer is simple - he complied with the law.  It's an important point.  Many people conclude that the judge was nuts to issue such an order.  On the contrary, he did his job correctly; it was the law that was nuts. Mandarano hits all the high points about TROs.  There are as many as three million of them issued each year in the United States.  They're easy to get, tough to overturn, used as a tactic in custody cases, often baseless, but usually effective to establish who is the "primary parent." That last of course is one of the main reasons for their use in custody cases.  TROs keep Dad out of his kids' lives for as long as six months and after that may restrict him to only supervised visitation for a longer time.  All that can add up to persuasive evidence that Mom is the primary parent and therefore should be the custodial one post-divorce. But, in the eyes of the divorce establishment, there are other positives to wholesale issuance of TROs.  They serve as bargaining chips that force dads to accept less  in custody and more in spousal support; they line attorney's pockets; they drain the man's resources and place him on the defensive emotionally.  Mandarano goes on:
Given the foregoing, this problem is certainly one that our judicial system should address and remedy.
And that's where Mandarano goes off the rails a bit.  Amazingly, she lays the failure of the legislative and judicial systems to remedy the misuse of TROs at the feet of men's and fathers' rights organizations.  Why?  We're too strident, that's why.  We use "vitriolic language" and "bombastic rhetoric." Well, I agree that websites supporting men's and fathers' rights often use intemperate language.  They also sometimes play fast and loose with facts.  I approve of neither and always try to be fact and logic-based and to avoid inflammatory words.  I do that because I think it's the right way to persuade people who haven't already made up their minds about the subjects discussed on this site. But the notion that state legislatures would have done the right thing  by now if MRAs and FRAs had just played more nicely is (a) unsupported by any evidence (and Mandarano offers none), (b) highly unlikely and (c) contradicted by the last 40 years of feminism that have seen, among many other things, rape laws altered drastically to the tune of feminists singing "all men are rapists."  If vitriolic rhetoric is so counterproductive, how'd that happen? No, state legislatures' failure to change TRO laws isn't because those arguing for gender equality in family courts sometimes heat their rhetoric to the boiling point.  Those laws remain because organizations that perceive a benefit from them threaten dire consequences if they do change.  Those organizations include associations of family attorneys and feminist organizations that loudly proclaim their support for gender equality while opposing essentially every move toward parental equality in family courts. Still, Mandarano offers some good - and some not so good - advice about how to attack the TRO system. She again counsels toning down the rhetoric.  I agree.  The TRO situation is outrageous, but it's  possible to convey outrage without alienating the person you're talking to.  When MRA and FRA organizations lobby state legislature, they must assume that the people they're addressing have an open mind on the subject.  They must address them in a calm voice using facts and logic to support their arguments.  Most importantly, they must make clear to each legislator their understanding that evidence-based TROs are sometimes necessary to protect people who need protecting.  Absent that clear message, they've lost their audience from the outset. On the other hand, Mandarano's call for studies to assess the extent of the problem is odd given the fact that she cited several such studies in her own article.  Is there a need for more?  Probably so, but activism against TROs doesn't need to wait for them to be done and published. Likewise, she encourages judges to sanction parties who perjure themselves.  Again, I couldn't agree more, but my guess is that, if judges were going to do that, they'd have done so by now.  Their refusal to punish perjurers has always been a mystery to me, but there it is, and I don't see it changing. One of Mandarano's good suggestions is one that's slipped my mind in the past, but no more.  Targets of TROs issued on false or non-existent evidence can always sue their accusers.  The common-law torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, etc. are available and can dampen the enthusiasm of the false accuser.  Also, they're tried in different courts than the custody case, so the typical family court prejudice against dads may not apply. All in all, Mandarano's piece is pretty good.  It has its misconceptions, but the gist is right - TRO laws need to be changed for everyone's sake. Thanks to Edward for the heads-up.

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If you've followed the  Maryanne Godboldo case, read this article (Detroit News, 4/23/11).  While you're at it, see if the question "why didn't this happen in the first place?" doesn't occur to you.  I know it did to me. Godboldo is the Detroit single mother who thought she actually knew best how to raise her 13-year-old daughter.  As it turns out, she's probably right.  But in the meantime, she was faced with a decision about whether to continue giving the girl Risperdal which is a medication to treat schizophrenia. Now, every article that comes out about this case adds new information about what led up to the child being taken by the state from her Godboldo's care.  At first we were told Godboldo refused to give the medication.  Then we were told she had given it but believed it made the girl's condition worse.  Now we're told that she was weaning her off the medication in consultation with her daughter's psychiatrist who agreed in writing that Godboldo could stop the medication any time she wanted. But we knew little of that when Child Protective Services went to court without Godboldo's knowledge and obtained an order for the mother to turn over the child because of her refusal to give her Risperdal.  CPS then showed up at Godboldo's door with the surprise order with which she understandably refused to comply.  So CPS called the police who sent the SWAT team replete with a tank, all because a mother, with the approval of her daughter's psychiatrist, didn't want the girl taking a particular psychotropic medication. As if all that weren't enough, once the police had wrested the girl from her mother, she was sent to a psychiatric facility where, two weeks later, she still hadn't received the medication and doctors said her condition was stable.  That's why I said earlier that it looks like Godboldo was not only within her rights, but had actually made the right decision. That brings us up to date.  The article informs us that now,
A judge announced a plan Friday to get a Detroit girl back into the care of relatives and out of a state mental health facility after a dispute over her mother's refusal to keep giving her prescribed drugs.
Judge Lynne Pierce of the Wayne County Circuit Court Juvenile Division gave doctors representing the state and the family of the 13-year-old two weeks to work out a treatment plan for her...
"I am assuming the doctors will be able to reach a joint treatment program where (the teen) will be able to receive treatment in a home setting," Pierce said after a lengthy private meeting in her chambers with lawyers representing the state and the girl's parents, Godboldo and Mubarak Hakim...
Under Friday's order, the doctors representing the state and the girl's family were ordered to meet within a week to begin work on a treatment plan. The doctors are George Mellos, director of a state facility for mentally ill youths, and family physician Margaret Betts, who had been helping wean the girl from the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal.
In other words, two sets of doctors will get together and agree on a plan for the girl's care to be followed while she's at home with her mother or another relative. So we're back to my original question, "why didn't this happen in the first place?"  Would it have been so hard for CPS, instead of rushing to court for an ex parte order to take the girl from her parent and her home, to have told Godboldo that they thought she should give the girl Risperdal?  When Mom disagreed, they could have gone to court and asked the same doctors who are now involved to come up with a plan for the girl's care.  Simple. At least compared to what actually happened it's simple.  No ex parte orders, no police, no SWAT team, no felony charges against the mother, no community outrage, no wrenching a child with psychiatric problems from her mother and home would have occurred.  One court hearing - maybe two - would have solved the whole thing. Here's a wild guess on my part: that question - "why didn't this happen in the first place?" - will be the core of a civil suit filed against CPS by Godboldo. I've said it before; this is what so often happens when individuals confront state power - all hell breaks loose.  And it seems to matter little what the simple, sensible thing to do might be. Even now, Godboldo doesn't have her daughter back.  She's to stay with an aunt for the time being although no one seems to know why Mom doesn't have custody.  What's she done wrong?  Yes, there's an allegation that she discharged a pistol while the SWAT team was breaking down her door. That would be a serious issue if it happened and not to be taken lightly.  But so far it's nothing more than an allegation and is presumed innocent.  Other charges against her stem mostly from her assertion of her parental rights.  My guess is that those will be dismissed soon enough. I've said it before: the breakdown of the family has opened the door to state intervention in what once were considered family matters and parental decisions.  This case shows it about as well as any.  A mother, along with her daughter's psychiatrist, decides how best to treat her daughter's mental condition.  The state disagrees and takes the child by force, parental rights be damned. CPS was wrong about the medication, but the far greater wrong was its decision to rush to court without notice to the parent.  But states give child welfare agencies those powers and, once given, you can count on them being used.  'Twas ever thus.

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With any luck, this case will be a harbinger of things to come.  Here's an article about the case (The West Virginia Record, 4/24/11). By itself, it's not definitive regarding fathers' rights in custody matters, but it points a direction in which I suspect courts will go more and more in future cases.  In a nutshell, the Supreme Court of West Virginia ruled that false allegations of child abuse can be used to terminate custodial rights. Now, the reasons the decision doesn't control fathers' rights is that it involves grandparents.  Likewise, it's based only in part on their false allegations of abuse.  Still, the reasoning is there to give falsely accused parents a leg up in custody cases. Melissa Arnold was married to Jonathan, apparently back in the 90s.  They had a son they named Jon and divorced at some point that's not stated by the court.  In 2000, after their divorce, Jonathan was killed in a car accident.  In 2003, Melissa remarried and her new husband, Warren Lee Arnold adopted Jon. But Melissa's parents opposed Jon's adoption by Warren.  According to the court, they did so "viciously."  The adoption was approved by the court, but the grandparents didn't let up.  At some point in 2007, Jon's grandfather noticed a bruise on the boy's stomach.  He decided this indicated child abuse and asked for and received an order of protection keeping Warren out of Jon's life for a period of 90 days.  That apparently required some vigorous coaching of Jon by his grandparents. The allegations were investigated and found to be baseless.  Jon, who has some form of cognitive impairment, said he got the bruise playing air hockey in a particularly strenuous way.  Other than the bruise there was no evidence of abuse. More importantly, Dr. Timothy Saar, a psychologist, examined Jon on four separate occasions, on every one of which, Jon said he'd been coached and intimidated by his grandfather into lying to the police and others about how the bruise occurred.  Dr. Saar further stated that being forced to lie about his stepfather placed Jon in a difficult emotional position.
However, Dr. Saar also reiterated that the false abuse allegations by the grandparents resulted in Jon being alienated from his father, which resulted in Jon feeling emotions of self-blame that were psychologically damaging to him.
Further,
Jon was coached by his grandparents into accusing his father of abusing him. The manipulation of this cognitively impaired child by his grandparents should be considered emotional abuse and should call into question the [grandparents"] ability to care for this child.
Based on the continuing conflict between, on one hand, Melissa and Warren and the grandparents on the other, Jon's parents went to court to terminate the grandparent's visitation rights.  The trial court denied the request but the Supreme Court overruled it and rendered judgment for the parents. So what we have is the assertion of rights by parties who aren't the child's parents, i.e. the grandparents.  Opposing them are the child's biological mother and stepfather, i.e. a man with no biological connection to the child. In West Virginia, the only consideration in deciding the custodial rights of grandparents is the best interests of the child.  And it was on that basis that the court decided that these particular grandparents should no longer associate with their grandson, not even with third-party supervision. The Supreme Court made its decision based on two factors only.
The particular facts of this case, including the vicious nature of the grandparents" actions to forestall Jon"s adoption proceedings, as well as their baseless pursuit of abuse allegations against Jon"s adoptive father, illustrate a relationship in constant conflict with that of Jon"s parents.
When the court refers to the "particular facts of this case," it's saying that its opinion does not mean that false abuse allegations prohibit grandparent visitation rights as a matter of law.  But what it does mean is that false allegations of child abuse can be used as a factor in the termination of those rights. Parental rights to children are more serious matters than those of grandparents and so we're still a long way from a ruling that any false allegation of abuse must result in a change of custodial rights.  But where we are is the clear acknowledgement by the highest court in a state that false allegations of abuse can be damaging to the child caught between two loved relatives.  Those allegations can be alienating and can cause psychological harm.  As such, courts will in future consider them as factors militating against the parental rights of false accusers. That's well within established law; it's also well within established social science.  As such, it should send a message to parents who might be inclined to make false allegations in order to achieve an advantage in custody decisions. If this case is any indication, false allegations of abuse made solely for the sake of gaining an advantage in custody cases will no longer be a free shot, devoid of adverse consequences for the accuser.  For reasons I've never understood, courts have always been loath to punish these exercises in blatant perjury.  Well, now they don't have to.  Simple recognition that false allegations that tend to separate a child from a loving and fit parent themselves constitute a form of child abuse will go a long way toward better custody decisions and in the end fewer false allegations of abuse.

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Do you pay alimony? If you are an alimony obligor from any state, please fill out our form here.

Fathers and Families has helped introduce SB 481, a California bill to curb the common family court practice of issuing "double dipping" spousal support orders. SB 481 will correct an inequity in California law wherein the same stream of income is counted twice in a family law action -- once for purposes of valuing that income stream as a division of property, then again for spousal/partner support purposes when the spouse/partner receives the income in the future.  Under this bill, family law courts would have to consider the impact of double counting of income when making a spousal/partner support order. SB 481 comes on the heels of SB 1482, an alimony reform bill we helped pass last year. SB 1482 allows some alimony obligors to obtain court orders requiring vocational examinations for their exes and mandates that judges follow the exams" findings when determining spousal support levels. Both SB 481 and SB 1482 are sponsored by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), who F & F named its California Senator of the Year for 2010. Below is the text of Rod Wright's SB 481 Fact Sheet:
THIS BILL:  Corrects an inequity in California law, known as double dipping, where the same stream of income is counted twice in a family law action -- once for purposes of valuing that income stream as a division of property, then again for spousal/partner support purposes when the spouse/partner receives the income in the future.  Under this bill, family law courts would have to consider the impact of double counting of income when making a spousal/partner support order. NEED FOR THE BILL: Double dipping, or the double counting of income, occurs when divorcing couples have income-producing assets, such as a pension, annuity, or a small family business, which is community property.  Such assets are to a great extent valued based on the income which the asset produces or which is expected to be produced in the future.  A spouse/partner who wishes to keep the asset must purchase the other party"s share by paying that party one-half of the present value of the future stream of income. That same stream of income is often counted again for purposes of spousal/partner support.  In other words, when the court determines each party"s ability to pay spousal/partner support, it will include the full stream of income which the other party has already purchased from the other party.  Many believe that this is an inherently unfair situation which can result in the loss of a small businesses or a retired person being unable to rely on the pension he or she thought was owned free-and-clear of the other party"s claims.  Many states, such as New York, have acted to prohibit such double counting. EXISTING LAW: There is little controlling California law on this topic, but the Supreme Court did approve of the practice, in dicta, in 1979.  See In re Marriage of Epstein (1979) 24 Cal.3d 76.  Appellate cases have also approved of double counting income in cases involving retirement accounts that were divided.  See, e.g., In re Marriage of White (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 1022.  In light of these cases, trial courts" hands are tied with respect to avoiding the inequities of double dipping.  This demands a legislative solution. SOLUTION: Double counting is a complex issue with many experts having different opinions as to how best to fix it.  This bill would avoid imposing a "one size fits all' approach.  It would express the legislative intent that the inequity created by double dipping should be avoided, and provide discretion to the courts to deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis.  This is done by adding a new provision to the 12 circumstances set forth in Family Code section 4320 that courts must consider when setting spousal/partner support: (n) The extent to which income for support was already capitalized and paid to the other spouse in the division of community property, to avoid double counting the income when the result would be inequitable, based on all of the circumstances presented.

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This case just goes on and on (Daily Mail, 4/23/11).  Glenn's written several pieces about it over the years, the first as early as 2006.  But as Yogi once said, "it ain't over till it's over," and this one still ain't over. 'This one' is the Janet Jenkins/Lisa Miller custody battle over their daughter, Isabella.  Years ago, Jenkins and Miller were a couple.  Both wanted a child, so they found a sperm donor and Miller became pregnant and gave birth to a little girl. For her part, Jenkins was there every step of the way, supporting Miller during her pregnancy, waiting with her during labor and at the hospital.  She was a hands-on mom who did the majority of the breadwinning for the couple and their child. In short, she was the "father" and Miller was the mother. Not surprisingly, when the two split up, the court treated Jenkins and Miller exactly that way.  It gave Miller primary custody and Jenkins visitation. All that would have been unfair to Jenkins, just as it's unfair to the millions of fathers who get the same short shrift every year, but the matter didn't end there.  That's because Miller not only didn't want to maintain a relationship with Jenkins, she didn't consider herself a lesbian anymore.  Plus, she had come to believe that lesbianism was morally wrong. That in turn led her to do what we so often see mothers doing - trying to cut the father out of his child's life.  Only in this case, the "father" was Janet Jenkins.  So, just as in so many cases, the mother moved out of state (from Vermont to Virginia) and refused to allow any contact between Jenkins and the child they'd both helped raise. Several years and numerous court hearings later, the judge finally transferred custody to Jenkins, but it was too late.  That was early last year and Miller was nowhere to be found and she still isn't.  No one seems to know where she or the little girl are. But I suspect we may be about to find out.  The linked-to article tells us that the FBI has arrested a Tennessee pastor named Timothy Miller in connection with the disappearance of Lisa Miller and the child.  (It's currently unknown if the pastor is related to Lisa Miller.) The FBI believes that he facilitated Lisa's international flight with the child, apparently to Nicaragua.  His telephone calls and emails reveal his contact with the Nicaraguan airline, TACA, to arrange a flight from Canada to the Central American country for two people that could not be routed through the United States. Into the bargain, it's thought that the two may be hiding out in a beach house owned by Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. With any luck, Timothy Miller will soon become acquainted with the importance of cooperating with authorities and spilling the beans about where Lisa Miller and Isabella are.  Of course, he may see assisting the kidnapping as his moral duty to keep the child out of the hands of her lesbian parent.  So he may keep mum and do his time, which would be up to three years if he's convicted. In the meantime, Jenkins' lawyer thinks the pastor's arrest is a big break in the case and I hope she's right.  Child kidnapping and Miller's other forms of alienating Isabella from Jenkins are clearly forms of child abuse and should not be rewarded.  Specifically, Isabella should be turned over to Jenkins and Lisa Miller should spend some time in jail. And if Falwell or his university have taken any part in this abusive affair, Jenkins should bring a civil suit against them. So that's the latest, and it may be an important development.  Whatever may come of it, the case still dramatically reinforces the treatment dads receive by family courts and the mothers of their children.  With more and more same-sex couples having children, these types of child custody battles are increasingly common. To learn more, see F & F's MSN.com column With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce: The Rise of Lesbian Custody Battles (10/15/09).

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The latest from Minnesota's effort to establish a presumption of equally shared parenting post divorce or separation doesn't amount to a lot.  House File 322 now has a companion bill in the Senate that's gone to the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearings.  That's a good thing, just not a big thing. What's more interesting is this article that spells out some amendments to the bill and also starts to sketch its opposition (Twin Cities Daily Planet, 4/14/11).
But Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) raised concerns about this bill's possible effect on child support.
Molly Olson, founder of the Center for Parental Responsibility, said the intent of the bill is to only address parenting time.
However, Michael Dittberner, legislative chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said that until a few years ago, custody and child support were linked. He said the proposed 45-plus percent parenting time could change the new child support formulas. "I think there was an intent to effect child support."
Well, the truth of the matter is that, if it's enacted into law, the bill should have an impact on child support.  That only makes sense.  The bill's presumption is for each parent to get at least 45.1% parenting time with the child.  That's compared to 30% or less under current custody arrangements that are usually ordered. So increased parenting time by Dad should lower child support levels for the good and sufficient reason that, because the child spends more time with him, his costs go up while hers go down. So it's interesting that that's what opponents are hanging their hats on.  To paraphrase their opposition, "We're against dads having equal contact with their children because moms might not get as much money."  That's their position even though, as I showed earlier, more time with Dad should mean lower support levels. But just because we're dealing with what they did say, let's not forget what they didn't say.  What they didn't say is anything about child abuse or spousal abuse or domestic violence or bad dads or brutal dads or careless dads. I don't know why that is.  Maybe they're keeping their powder dry or maybe the emperor's clothes are wearing a bit thin.  Usually the anti-dad crowd makes those misleading claims as mechanically as flipping a switch. So I've got to wonder why they're not singing the same sad old tune.  Could it be that legislatures have had enough of the false claims that dads - but not moms - hurt their kids?  Could it be that elected officials now know the truth - that moms do twice the abuse and neglect of children that dads do and about 75% more of the child homicide?  After all, they'd have to do nothing more than go to the website for the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families to find out the up-to-date facts. I'd like to think so, but I've got my doubts.  Still, the argument that children should continue to lose their dads via divorce because if they didn't, Mom wouldn't get paid as much is a pretty remarkable stance to take.  Let's just say I'm glad it's them making the argument and not me. Interestingly, it vaguely echoes what North Dakota state senators gave as their reason for voting down that state's recent equally-shared parenting bill.  It seems that, shortly before the vote, they were deluged with calls from family court lawyers and judges saying the bill would make custody decisions more complicated.  I've got my doubts about that; it would seem to have made them easier since the presumption would have applied in most cases.  But it was interesting that, as in Minnesota, the objection was administrative, not substantive.  Again, gone were the complaints by feminist groups about domestic violence .  They were replaced by an altogether new and entirely uninspiring plea that judges and family lawyers shouldn't be inconvenienced. This is thin gruel indeed.  The old DV claims, however wrong, at least offered a compelling drama.  What'll they come up with next?  Maybe "we can't let dads have access to their children because we'd have to reword the standard order forms."  Whatever the case, it's beginning to look like the anti-dad forces are running out of excuses to keep children from having fully-involved fathers in their lives.

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Fathers and Families supporters have seen it many times before--a couple splits up and one partner  raises heaven and earth to prevent the other from playing a meaningful part in his or her child"s life. In extreme cases, one parent even hides the child from the other parent. The highly-publicized Jenkins/Miller child custody battle is the same, except that the dispute is between two women--biological mother Lisa Miller and social mother Janet Jenkins. The pair agreed to have a child together, got a sperm donor together, and raised their daughter, Isabella, together until they split. Miller then denied Jenkins any role in Isabella"s life and, when she lost her child custody case, disappeared with the girl. Fathers and Families has long defended Jenkins in the media--for more background on the case, see F & F"s MSN.com column With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce: The Rise of Lesbian Custody Battles (10/15/09). As Fathers and Families Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq. recently explained in his blog post Break in Jenkins/Miller Case: Pastor Arrested, Charged with Abetting Kidnapping, it now appears that authorities may have the leads they need to locate the girl and, hopefully, reunite her with Jenkins. Child custody disputes involving homosexual couples are becoming increasingly common and are often contentiously litigated. Unlike many groups focusing on LGBT issues, we do not see these disputes as centering on primarily gay/lesbian rights. Instead, we see them as family court issues  comparable to those involving disputes between married heterosexual couples where the man is infertile and children are conceived through the recruitment of a sperm donor. Such children are considered the children of the marriage, and are raised by both the mother and father. When a couple divorces,  one parent should not be able to decide that, because he or she is the only biological parent, he or she can drive the  ex out of their child"s life. Both parents agreed to have a child together, and they both have a parent-child relationship with their child. The child"s right to a relationship with both parents  must be protected. While F & F does not take any official position on gay marriage or gay rights issues, we do defend the rights of all parents--male or female, biological or adoptive, gay or straight. Jenkins has for many years been represented in court and in the media by the Boston-based advocacy group Gay & Lesbian Advocate Defenders. GLAD has been very effective, repeatedly winning in court, but the court"s orders have not been effectively enforced. F & F spoke with a GLAD representative today, commended the organization  for its good work, and offered our support.

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Here's Barbara Kay writing in the National Post last November.  She's discussing the comments a judge made after a jury convicted a mother, Elaine Campione of drowning her two daughters because she wanted to take revenge against her ex-husband for leaving her.
He said, "It is more than disconcerting to think that if Campione had not been so abused, so used and discarded as a person, her two daughters could still be alive…' Judge Stong was determined that even if it is Campione that gets locked up, Canadians would know that the real villain, morally speaking, is Leo Campione, the father of the dead girls (even though his alleged abusiveness was entirely based on his wife"s allegations and never proved), and it is actually the "discarded' Elaine Campione who is the victim.
Judge Stong felt such personal animus against the grieving father that he wanted to deny Mr. Campione and his parents their opportunity to read a victim-impact statement, standard practice even with mandatory- sentencing cases. He only relented under strong pressure from the prosecutor, who reminded the judge that the murdered girls had been "an extremely important part of [Mr. Campione's] life.'
That was last year, so why do I bring it up now?  Because of its striking similarity to the Lashanda Armstrong case. Armstrong of course is the New York woman who drove herself and her four children into the Hudson River telling them all that if she was going to die then they must die as well.  The oldest, ten-year-old La'Shaun was the only one to manage to get free.  He says his mother attempted to hold all the children in the car as it sank into the 45-degree water, but he squirmed away and swam to safety. So that's one major difference between the Armstrong and Campione cases; Armstrong is no longer alive. But the headlong dash to find the children's father responsible for their deaths is essentially identical.  The children's eyes had barely closed before news accounts breathlessly reported that Armstrong and Jean Pierre, father of the three dead children, but not of La'Shaun, had argued about his "cheating." Since then we've been told that he had been charged with child neglect when a toddler under his care was found wandering unattended.  The fact that he was never convicted or punished for the incident came out only later. At the time of the incident no one paused to ask what it might mean to "cheat" on a person to whom you're not married and who doesn't allow you to live with her and seeks to keep you out of the lives of your children as Armstrong did to Pierre. But to rational beings, cheating, even if it occurred, doesn't justify the intentional killing of small children.  The mere fact that I have to say that speaks volumes about the type of culture we live in.  But read the articles about the Armstrong killings and Barbara Kay's piece about the inexcusable behavior of Judge Stong in the Campione murders and it's hard to deny that, when mothers kill their children, people reflexively look for a father to blame. That's the nut of this article (Salon.com, 4/27/11).  It's at pains to remind us that it was Armstrong, not Pierre, who killed the kids.  Why did we have to be told?  Because, with all the vilification of the dad, it might be hard to keep the fact in mind. It also reminds us that Pierre is one of the victims.  He's not dead, but he's still a father whose three little children were killed by their mother.  Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity would empathize with Pierre who's endured one of the most terrible shocks imaginable. But those folks seem to be in short supply among the stampede to find something - anything - with which to blame the dad for something he objectively did not do.
"He's in shock that his children died," said the lawyer, Stephen J. Powers. "He's not looking to accuse anybody of anything but everybody wants to put the blame on him."
That's not unusual.
"It's really good to have someone to blame," said Dr. Philip R. Muskin, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. "Appropriately or not, having someone to blame gives us an answer, and we like answers."
A tendency to blame the victim is not unheard of, said psychologist David Palmiter, public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association
"In this case, one of the victims is the living spouse," Palmiter said. "His children were killed."
All of that is sensible enough - blatantly unfair to Pierre, but at least understandable - except for one thing.  When the sexes are reversed, do people blame the mother?  When a father takes the life of a child, do the media and assorted opiners and hangers-on turn their accusing fingers towards her?  If the do, I've never seen it.  Maybe someone can remind us of a single instance in which that happened. That's the first problem with the opinions of the "experts" in this case.  They phrase their opinions in gender-neutral ways, but the phenomenon they describe is anything but that.  The simple fact is that fathers receive blame from the talking heads while mothers receive understanding.  Until the experts notice that glaring fact, their opinions will continue to have only limited utility. The second problem is that these same experts who dispassionately describe people's tendency to look for a scapegoat, do precisely that themselves.
However, the experts do not find Pierre blameless. If his relationship with Armstrong had been healthy, they said, she probably would have had one less stress factor. In addition, said Gerald Mallon, a professor at Hunter College's School of Social Work, "a good partner might have picked out the signs of mental illness."
Yes, she had stress in her life, just like 100% of all other adults - those who drown their helpless children and those who don't. And of course there's the "mental illness" angle that Mallon and many other commenters take for granted.  The problem with that is that, apart from the incident itself, there's not the least evidence that Armstrong was mentally ill.  One lay person one time said Armstrong seemed to be acting in a "paranoid" way.  Beyond that single statement, there's nothing. There has been no report of behavior that would lead anyone to believe that Armstrong didn't appreciate the wrongness of what she was doing.  She hadn't consulted a mental health expert, wasn't on medication and seemed to be living a normal, if conflicted, life. Meanwhile, the same "experts" seem not to know basic facts about the case or others to which they compare it.  One suggests that Pierre and Armstrong were married.   They weren't. Another believes that the husband of Andrea Yates didn't know she was mentally ill, when in fact he had been deeply involved in her treatment for months before she killed their five children. The vilification of Jean Pierre is disgraceful.  Yes, it seems that the man must plead guilty to being a flawed human being.  Yes, his partner did what she could to keep him out of his children's lives and yes, he seems to have had sex with at least one woman other than Armstrong.  For all that, let him prostrate himself at our feet don a hair shirt and cry "Mea culpa!" But let us be clear about two things.  First, Jean Pierre is no worse than countless people, male and female, and he's better than many. More importantly, nothing he's said, done, or left undone, justifies the intentional killing of three small children.  Nothing. Blame for that rests at the feet of one person and one person only - Lashanda Armstrong.  Until we get that straight, this society will be in no position to pretend that we treat the sexes equally.  Until we stop reserving our condemnation for men and our forgiveness for women, the sexes will not be equal.  That's a wrong that hurts everyone.

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It must be something in the water. I've written several times about Peter Spitz whose wife attempted to kill him seven years ago with three pistol shots to the head before killing his mother.  She's spent the ensuing years in a psychiatric facility from which she's now in the process of being released.  Peter, meanwhile has been condemned to a lifetime of blindness.  Over the years, he's worked hard at rehabilitation and, for a time had increasing custody of his young son who was placed with guardians when Peter was too disabled to care for him. One of the most remarkable aspects of Peter's case is that the guardians have announced their intention of adopting his son.  That would mean terminating Peter's parental rights despite the fact that he has never been found to be unfit or in any way incapable of caring for his son. That Peter Spitz does not now have full custody of his son looks from here like an outrage.  With luck, he'll still be able to stop the adoption and gradually regain custody of the boy. Now comes the David Shubert case that's also pending in Arapahoe County, albeit before a different judge.  As I said, it must be something in the water.  Is it in fact more outrageous than the Peter Spitz case?  I'd say that's possible.  You be the judge. David and Shirley Schubert married in 2001 in the United States.  She already had a son, James, who was 22 months old at the time.  James's father had passed away before David and Shirley married.  The pair later had a daughter, Chianne in December of 2004.  David was always a caring, hands-on father to both children. Until 2007, things seemed to be going pretty well, but on June 26, Shirley abducted the children to her native Australia.  Three weeks later, David filed for divorce and requested custody of both children.  Since Shirley had fled the country, he had to pursue his remedies under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  He filed suit in November, 2007 in Sydney, Australia and, 13 months later the court ruled that Shirley should return the children to David in Colorado where he resided.  She refused.  She appealed the order of the Austalian court and in that proceeding too, David prevailed.  She then threatened to kill the children and herself, although fortunately she didn't do so.  Under threat of arrest and prosecution for kidnapping, she returned to Colorado to face the district court's inquiry into custody of the children. She needn't have worried.  In what must count as one of the most remarkable judicial decisions to come along in a good while, the judge listed all the issues required under Colorado law to be considered in allocating parental responsibility, found that Shirley violated most of them and promptly gave custody to her. Judge Robert H. Russell did so by the simple expedient of importing his own consideration about custody that's found nowhere in the statute and allowing it more weight than all the other statutory considerations combined. His order, issued June 23, 2009, is an act of judicial legerdemain that would impress a Judge Houdini. For example, the court recited that Colorado statute law requires it to consider "(c) the interaction and interrelationship of the children with anyone that may significantly affect the children's best interests." In that regard, Judge Russell noted that the mother abducted the children, refused all contact between them and David, refused to give him a telephone number to contact them, refused to send him photographs of them and refused to take his calls. The court noted that Colorado law requires it to consider "(f) the ability of the parties to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the children and the other party." Regarding that, Judge Russell pronounced himself "very concerned" about Shirley's ability to comply with the statute and noted that she had in fact failed and refused to do so. Colorado statutes also require the court to consider "(g) whether the past pattern of the involvement of the parties reflects a system of values, time commitment and mutual support." Again, Judge Russell noted that the mother had at all times resisted sharing parenting with David and that her doing so indicated a lack of mutual support. Other provisions of the statute require the court to consider whether either parent has (i) abused or neglected the children or (j) abused the other spouse. As to (i), Judge Russell found no abuse of the children by either party, indicating his complete ignorance of the opinions of many mental health professionals that parental kidnapping of children is itself child abuse.  Neither of course did he recognize the abusive nature of keeping young children apart from the other parent for years at a time. But in any case, he found no child abuse by David. As to (j), Judge Russell found no spousal abuse by either party, although he did note that Shirley made false allegations of same to the Australian court.  That court found those claims to be baseless and Judge Russell correctly stated that she never got around to making them until the Hague case had been decided against her. What really troubled Judge Russell was "(h) the physical proximity of the parties to each other as this relates to the practical considerations of parenting time."  He correctly observed that Shirley had been living in Australia and David in Colorado, but never wrapped his mind around how that had come about. After all, it was Shirley's unilateral and flagrantly illegal act of abducting their children that had caused the dramatic difference in their respective locations.  Did it not seem crystal clear to the judge that the fact of (h)'s presence in the statute indicates the legislature's preference for co-parents to live near to each other?  Did it not occur to him that, by making that impossible, Shirley violated the intent of the legislature that in order to keep both parents in children's lives, they should live fairly close to each other?  Apparently not. So, the judge correctly recited the subsections of the applicable statute and found that Shirley had flagrantly violated many of them.  To most folks, that would essentially require him to give custody to David with at most supervised visitation to Shirley.  In fact, other courts in other states have done exactly that based only on the failure of one parent to promote a child's relationship with the other parent, i.e. those states' versions of (f) above.  In this case, Judge Russell has found Shirley to have violated far more than that single subsection. In the event, having recited the applicable law, the judge simply ignored it and stated that "additionally," i.e. a consideration not part of the statute, the mother had been the primary caregiver for the children and therefore she should have custody and be allowed to return to Australia.  That is, even though essentially all the statutory considerations militated in favor of David and against Shirley, the judge's own sense of what's right - who's been the primary caregiver - prevailed. This is a judge, after all who somehow managed to write that "this court has no information concerning whether the parties can revert to their previous ability to make joint decision (sic) currently." Really?  No information?  The facts that she'd abducted the children for two years, allowed no contact between them and their father and made spurious allegations of abuse provides the judge "no information" about her ability to get along with David and engage in joint decision-making?  What planet does this guy inhabit? David reliably informs me that people familiar with international child kidnapping cases were aghast at Judge Russell's ruling. That of course was back in 2009.  After the decision, Shirley ran back to Australia and proceeded to completely ignore each and every one of David's rights under the order.  The court had ordered certain visitation provisions most of which were to be accomplished by telephone and Skype.  She's refused them all without exception. David's also entitled to have his kids during their summer holiday and no less than 25 days per year during that time.  It's never happened. Shirley is required to consult with David about all major decisions about the children.  She's never done it. She's required to send him all pertinent records of their schooling.  He's never received a thing. By the way, the same judge that found multiple violations of the Colorado statute governing parenting time also stated that he'd had the opportunity to observe the mother and he was "confident that she understands that should she fail to cooperate in performing responsibly in mutal decision-making obligations in the future, she would be required by the Family Court of Australia to answer for her omissions, or be required to return to this Court to do the same." Wrong on both counts.  Shirley had no more intention of cooperating after the order than she had before it.  And neither the Australian court nor the Colorado court has lifted a finger to do anything about it. It's not for lack of trying on David's part.  He's been back in court seeking contempt orders four separate times, but Shirley's never showed up and her behavior has never changed.  He tried to get custody, but was denied.  He tried to get expanded visitation but the court ignored that completely. He's still trying.  He's got a hearing in the near future to once again try to convince a recalcitrant judge to comply with the law of the state that pays his salary. Let's be clear.  David Shubert loves his children deeply and always has.  Indeed, one of the few things Judge Russell got right was his finding that, even though he's not James's biological father, David was, at the time of his abduction, the only father the boy had ever known.  The same of course is true for his daughter Chianne.  There is a term for what's happened - court-approved kidnapping.  It's very simple; the mother kidnapped the children for no good reason - no abuse, no brutality, no neglect.  And because the judicial system works slowly (in this case it took two years), she possessed the children to the exclusion of the father.  And it is precisely for that reason that, contrary to Colorado statute law, she was awarded custody. We've seen it before, often in adoption cases; just get hold of a child and keep it long enough and some court somewhere will decide it's yours. Judge Robert Russell rewarded Shirley Shubert's blatantly illegal actions by giving her 100% custody of the two children.  That - complete custody to the exclusion of David - was what her abduction accomplished; it's what she wanted all along.  That what's called a court of law put its stamp of approval on her multiple legal violations and distorted Colorado statutes beyond recognition to do so surely set a new low for family courts.  That it's subsequently refused to enforce the meager visitation it awarded David sets the mark lower still. It is past time for this court to admit its errors and return David Shubert's children to him.

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